Are you chronically stressed?
If you are a human being living in a first world country right now, the chances are you are chronically stressed! Chronic stress refers to the experience of feeling emotionally pressured and overwhelmed over a prolonged period of time. This isn’t the periodic, short-lived stress (it’s called eustress) that energises and galvanizes us into action but rather that background hum of feeling constantly overwhelmed and fatigued by all that we think we have to do.
Do any of these ring any bells?
- Often feeling rushed or pressured for time.
- Avoiding friends, colleagues or family because you think they may burden you with something that you just can’t deal with.
- Frequent feelings of being unable to cope.
- Difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep because your mind will not settle.
- Having stressors in your life that are present over a long period of time. This could include caring for a sick family member, struggling in a job you dislike, having a chronic pain condition or relationship difficulties that you can’t resolve.
- Being unable to relax or appreciate free time even when you have it.
- Observing a decline in your productivity even though you feel that you never stop.
- Noticing difficulties with your memory and concentration.
- Observing increasing numbers of ailments and illnesses.
- Weight, blood pressure or heart problems that you or your GP suspect are influenced by stress.
If you are reading the signs above and nodding your head furiously then you may have an issue with chronic stress. I always encourage and support my clients to address this because I know (and the research supports this) that it can lead to significant health issues and potential problems with depression and anxiety.
Stress is an invader that has many disguises!
Stress invades our life in all kinds of ways. We are quite familiar with feeling stressed at work, in our relationships, about how well our kids are doing or about our finances, and we are used to feeling time poor and overwhelmed. But stress can also come to us through the unhealthy foods we eat, our exposure to everyday chemicals and toxins in the environment, stress from toxic thoughts, from lack of exercise, from illness, and even from feeling disconnected from others, lonely or isolated.
Fight or flight
Our brain was never designed to deal with relentless stressors. It was designed to respond to one-off ‘acute’ threats that it could address by running away or fighting – this is our ‘fight-flight’ mechanism. Simply put, the brain’s job is to recognise and respond to perceived threats in our environment and decide in a split second how to respond to ensure our survival. Note that word ‘perceived’ – it is highly relevant! In the caveman days when most of our threats were physical – think wild animals chasing us, competing tribes trying to take our women or fight us for territory, this response was a sure-fire way to improve our chances of survival. We would perceive the threat, respond accordingly, then reset and go back to a baseline level of vigilance. It has served us so well that we are now the top of the food chain.
You know when your fight/flight has been triggered because you may feel breathless, tense, hot, agitated, pumped or overwhelmed. This is the body’s response to the release of hormones such as adrenalin, norepinephrine and cortisol that prepare us for action.
It’s all about perceived threat!
Flash-forward to the current day in our modern societies and clearly life is no longer about physical survival for most of us. The mechanism for fight or flight, however, is still always doing its ‘threat analysis’. Problems arise when this mechanism continues prowling for threats but doesn’t find them in our physical environment. It then starts looking inward and all of a sudden we are getting activated by thoughts like ‘why didn’t my friend respond to my text as quickly as I thought she should have’ or, ‘that driver on the road cut me up on purpose’ or ‘why isn’t my partner bringing me flowers as often as my friend’s partner’. Basically, our imagination becomes the limit of things to stress about and many of these things can’t be resolved so we are unable to respond and reset. This can leave us in a permanent state of activation with few opportunities to switch off and genuinely relax.
So what do I do, Bernadette?
If you are interested in reading more about how to recognise and manage stress read part 2 here
I so appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and I sincerely hope that you find them helpful. Please understand, however, that the information you find here is not a substitute for therapy. If you have serious concerns about your mental or emotional health please seek personal, professional help.